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Got a great store? Enter here

BY Ken Clark

Entries are now being accepted for the 31st annual Chain Store Age Retail Store of the Year Design Competition, which will celebrate outstanding retail and restaurant design. More than 20 categories are featured, ranging from home improvement to supermarkets to specialty stores and drug stores. 

Entries may be submitted by retailers, designers, architects or suppliers.

For more information and to download the entry form, click here.

The deadline for submissions is Dec. 17, 2012. See entry form for information about extensions. For questions, email Marianne Wilson at [email protected].

Chain Store Age is a sister publication of HCN, published by Lebhar-Friedman.

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Lowe’s continues down transformation road

BY Ken Clark

Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe’s is telling investors and analysts that changes are in the works, a message it has delivered steadily over the last several quarters.

“We will evolve our sales culture across all channels to better understand and serve customers’ needs, and further leverage our investments in technology," said Rick Damron, chief operating officer. "This next phase of our transformation is focused on our associates and their relationship with customers. It is a shift from a transaction-oriented culture to a project-oriented culture with a particular focus on lead conversion and average ticket growth.” 

For fiscal year 2012, total sales are expected to be flat compared with the 53-week prior year, but up about 2% compared with the prior 52-week period, the company said. Comp-store sales are expected to increase about 1% on a 52-week-to-52-week basis. 

The company will finish the year with 10 new store openings. 

Robert Niblock, Lowe’s chairman, president and CEO, said, “As we look at the home improvement industry, we know consumers’ affinity for their homes remains strong even as we emerge from the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression."

There will be a lot of competition for share of wallet in this environment, including rival Home Depot, where comp-store sales have outperformed Lowe’s comps for each of the last 14 quarters.

Gregory Bridgeford, chief customer officer, is expected to address improvements during the Wednesday conference. “We are building on our core strengths with Value Improvement and Product Differentiation," he said. "These focus areas are expected to deliver comparable store transaction growth, higher gross margins and improved inventory productivity. You might think of Value Improvement as the inner circle enhancing the core, and Product Differentiation as the outer circle driving excitement and flexibility.”

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Why Consumer Reports is wrong about extended warranties

BY HBSDEALER Staff

By Joe Erdeman 

In its December issue, Consumer Reports warns consumers to be wary of the extended warranty sales pitch during the holiday season. But retailers may want to warn their customers not to believe everything they read. 

The publication suggests that only a few consumers benefit from the peace of mind and protection that extended warranties provide. The numbers, however, tell a different story. In reality, millions of consumers enjoy the benefit of product protection. About 250 million extended service plans are sold annually to protect consumer electronics, according to the Service Contract Industry Council. 

For decades, extended warranty providers have been plagued by claims that service plans provide little value to consumers.  But attempts to discourage consumers from purchasing extended warranties — or retailers from making the offer on the showroom floor — may deny consumers the services they want and deserve.

As a leader in the protection services industry, we have found that extended warranties improve the ownership experience.  Extended warranties are much more than just break/fix insurance policies. They provide a wide variety of coverage and services that last long after the manufacturer’s warranty expires.  Many offer extras like 24-hour technical support and self-help tutorials, remote diagnostics and on-line data backup services that increase the enjoyment consumers experience with the products they own. Consumers who buy protection along with their products enjoy greater peace of mind and a longer, more satisfying relationship with their purchases. 

Let’s face it. Even the most well-made products have been known to fail, as evidenced by the high volume of repairs and replacements we handle each year. Exactly when a product will fail is not only impossible to predict but hard to understand, according to Wired magazine. Variables such as how it is used, where it was constructed and what external conditions it was exposed to all contribute to product lifespan. Products tend to last a lot longer when they are maintained and serviced properly. Many extended warranties offer routine maintenance to keep products working properly as long as possible.

Today’s high-end electronic  devices are made with delicate, intricate components that are more prone to malfunction than older technology. Since many of these gadgets are also smaller in size, they are easier to mishandle or damage — especially in the hands of teenagers and young children. Retailers generate goodwill each time a protection plan comes to the rescue in today’s wired world. 

As products become more sophisticated, they also are more expensive to repair. Extended warranties take the guesswork out of service. Replacing a laptop hard drive can run about $200. A tablet’s main board costs about $300, a refrigerator compressor about $500 and an LCD TV control box about $560, according to industry reports. At a cost of about 10-20 percent of a product’s purchase price, extended warranties are less expensive than typical repair costs, and the service plan often pays for itself after only one repair. The front-end purchase of a warranty adds one-stop, retail convenience for shoppers. 

Finding a qualified repair technician can be a challenge, as the pool of trained service providers for high-end electronics and devices has diminished. Extended warranties eliminate the difficulty of locating a qualified service technician by offering a national network of certified, fully vetted repair providers. Consumers can also take advantage of in-store or a depot repair, with no out-of-pocket expenses — including shipping.

Self-help is also an option. A simple call to the extended warranty provider’s 24-hour technical support line can provide the remote help consumers often need. Extended warranties offer a variety of technical support services, and in many cases, consumers can receive answers to their questions and resolve technical issues themselves. Every product repaired is one less item that is returned to the store, reducing operating costs for retailers and hassle for the consumer.

Some “consumer advocates” advise shoppers that their credit cards will serve to protect their product purchases. The fact is, credit card product protection is quite limited. Only half of credit card companies cover all of their cardholders, and not all products are covered. In many cases, the manufacturer’s warranty is only extended for up to one year. Service plan coverage can extend above and beyond the basic manufacturer’s warranty for several years and cover a wide variety of perils.

Credit card coverage excludes wear and tear, accidental damage and power surges. And unlike extended warranties, credit card protection policies may not cover related expenses such as food spoilage for a malfunctioning refrigerator, or shipping costs, which can run as much as $97 for a 10-pound package. Extended warranties often cover shipping or assign repairs to a local technician with no shipping required, and they typically include a no-lemon policy, replacing the product if it fails three times in 12 months.

Yes, extended warranties are a great way to enhance retailer revenue, but they are designed with consumers in mind. They offer a much wider variety of protection than they are given credit for, and consumers who make the decision to purchase them are very often glad they did. Retailers that offer service plans create a competitive edge by strengthening customer relationships and enhancing brand loyalty. In today’s marketplace, value-added services like extended warranties can differentiate retailers and keep consumers coming back for a lifetime.

Joe Erdeman is president of Assurant Solutions’ extended protection business.

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